Monday, April 17, 2017

Abduction and survival

Doll House

By John Hunt

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Pub. Date: January 19, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


 Suspense novels that deal with abduction, torture, and rape have a fine line to tread. The good ones must shock and scare but not cross over the line into gratuitousness. At the beginning of the novel I worried Doll House would do just that. It is certainly shocking and gruesome but John Hunt manages something quite impressive. The gory descriptions of violence do manage to shock but they also serve to strengthen the character and her resolve to overcome her ordeal. Doll House eventually becomes a story of bravery and perseverance.

We meet Olivia and her father on the first page They are likeable and admirable people. Olivia is headed to college yet almost immediately she is abducted. That sets up the nightmare and the reader is thrown into a whirlwind of violence and terror. The author does a brilliant bit of paradox as Olivia is imprisoned in a room that is almost all pink. It's like a pretty doll house which is the farthest thing to that which she will be subjected to. That contradiction nicely serves to disorient the reader to the emotions and actions that will follow.

If this nightmare continued through the entire book it just may be too much for most people. Fortunately , through incidents that will remain unspoken to prevent spoilers, we do get a reprieve from the horrors. That does not mean the tension is over. The suspense is still carried on by Hunt's excellent storytelling skills and the book becomes more of a mystery and a portrayal of physical and emotional survival. But what keeps this tale so riveting is the relationship between the characters. Olivia and her father is the linchpin but even seemingly less important interactions like that of the victims (Yes, there's more than one victim. I'll let that little teaser out!) and even the interaction between the kidnapper are important.

A good horror-suspense tale to some extent must make the reader uncomfortable. It is about those things you do not want to experience in real life. Horror and suspense are indeed cathartic. Hunt packs a huge punch in this book, teetering over the boundary sometimes perhaps, but redeems himself by making the protagonist of the novel someone you cannot help but root for. Doll House is the first great suspense novel I've read this year.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A House is not a home

Liquid Status

By Bradley Sands

Publisher: Rooster Republic Press 

Pub. date: February 23, 2017

 Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


 Bradley Sands' previous books are bizarro with a strong touch of comic madness. They made sense and yet they didn't and that was fine because that was the joy of the ride. Yet the author's works to me seemed to want to be a bit more than that at times. He packs a good sense of surrealism and Dada right next to the humor. His new novella Liquid Status appears a lot more serious, breaking partially free of that comic feel that I both admired yet felt it perhaps limited his potential. In 76 pages, the potential becomes gloriously limitless.

Liquid Status starts with the death of a grandmother. The family is not given a name except for Mom, Dad, and the sons Paul and Matt. We are immediately told that the family has rules mostly originating from Mom. Yet when Grandma, as we know her, dies not only are the rules of the family dissolved but also the rules of nature and physics. We are introduced to the impossible. The family is thrown into isolation from the outlying world and trapped in the house. The front door disappears. Matt becomes a cardboard box. Bodies change consciousness. And on and on as the impossible becomes possible and randomness looks for a meaning.

What is this all about? At times it feels like stream of consciousness but I suspect it all has some form of structure and meaning to the author. A rigid family is thrown into chaos. Their horror is in the lack of control and alienation from their once meaningful world. House and family are becoming inseparable in both a physical and a emotional sense. For a short novella, there is a lot packed into these pages

As much as I loved the author's previous books there seems to be a maturing here. There is still humor but the humor is both dark and more intimate. Liquid Status may seem weird to the unsuspecting reader but it is a joy to read, massaging the intellect and baffling the imagination on every page. This comes with a high recommendation even if you may like your fiction a bit more grounded in mundane reality.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The evil within

Exorcist Falls

 By Jonathan Janz

Publisher: Sinister Grin Pres

Pub. Date: March 15, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This publication of Exorcist Falls is actually two books. It starts with the previously published novella Exorcist Road and continues with the longer original novel Exorcist Falls. But they should be read as one book as Exorcist Falls starts two nights later and continues the suspense and horror already pouring out of the first work.

And when I say “Pouring” I mean a torrential downpour. The book gets right to the point on page one and doesn’t let up. We meet Father Jason Crowder as his friend and parishioner Danny Hartmann asks him to go to his brother’s house on a late raining night. Ron Hartman’s fourteen year old son Casey has attacked his family. Normally a priest wouldn’t be needed for such a problem but Casey is doing more than being violent. There is a serial killer loose and Casey is talking about things only the serial killer would know. Casey may be the Sweet Sixteen Serial Killer.

From here the novella and novel escalates into a dizzying combination of demonic possession horror and supernatural mystery. Is Casey possessed? Is he really the serial killer? The first question is answered quickly as Father Crowder calls in his mentor Father Sutherland and they prepare for the exorcism. The second question gets more interesting as red herrings and accusations fly constantly. Of course demons never make anything easy.

The first novella, Exorcist Road, takes place during the night of the exorcism and there is a clear ending in which we find out much about the possession and the murders. The title novel, as previously stated, starts two nights later. The problem is that any description of its plot will spoil portions of the novella so it is enough to say that the flow of the action blends seamlessly. Father Crowder is battling both demon and serial killer while fearing for both his body and soul. There are more clever turns all the way to the end.

I find exorcism thrillers to be a curious breed of horror novel. They focus on the most intimate of fears. The evil inside us. To some extent, they are comforting. Our dark secrets can be blamed on the supernatural, the demon inside us. If only it was that easy. Jonathan Janz gives us a turn by dealing with both horrors, that of the supernatural and that which is our own choosing, and suggests that maybe they are not all that separable. He does this in a tight well-structured plot and with a sharp eye for action and dialogue. If the action feels a bit too forced at times with its many twists and coincidences, it is easy to forgive when one’s words flow so easily on the pages. Exorcist Falls is a riveting horror thriller about supernatural horrors but and also the more mundane horrors of the human condition.